The great Chelsea fire sale and how clubs are now manipulating FFP



Arsenal, Brazil, money

By Tony Attwood

According to reports Chelsea, are engaged in a fairly desperate attempt to off load players in order to avoid any Financial Fair Play penalties.  It appears that they have already sold six players, bringing in £193m.

This is a story being looked at by the Athletic, who have it seems been looking at one of our favourite sources for fairly reliable data: TransferMarkt – and they have produced a five year comparison, which is perhaps of more interest to us than the Chelsea figures alone.

TransferMarkt tends to quote figures in euros, and I’ll stick with that…

Club 23/24 22/23 21/22 20/21 19/20 Total Trophies
€-63.20m €-230.03m €-110.90m €-64.30m €-155.62m €-624.05m Lge C
€-65.10m €-168.56m €-136.00m €-66.85m €-107.15m €-543.66m FAC
€-124.70m €-139.15m €-61.28m €-97.20m €-86.00m €-508.33m
€123.80m €-543.66m €30.94m €-190.05m €112.27m €-466.71m CL
€-55.00m €-171.29m €-130.50m €-38.73m €-37.26m €-432.78m
€2.00m €-172.45m €-70.27m €-9.29m €-64.32m €-314.33m E Conf
€-29.10m €11.67m €-45.10m €-109.40m €-95.82m €-267.75m Lge C 2, Lge 3, FAC 1, CL1
€-112.00m €-56.60m €-57.45m €-66.85m €37.60m €-255.30m PL, FAC, LgeC,
€-17.00m €-190.25m €-6.12m €610k €9.75m €-203.01m


So pretty much the worst return on investment looks like being Tottenham Hotspur with €508.33m spent on no trophies.  This might be compared with €624.05m spent by Manchester United on winning the league cup.

Tottenham have of course also spent rather a lot on the stadum.  One of the earliest estimates of the stadium cost was around £300m, but by mid-2018 that was increased to between £350 and £400 million.  (These figures are for the stadium, not the whole  Northumberland Development Project).

Much of the increase was due to Brexit which put up the cost of imports, and seemingly was not accounted for in original estimates, but there was quite an insistence early on that the notion of a £1bn stadium was fanciful media talk.  In November 2020, a Mr Levy, said that building the stadium had cost £1.2 billion.

Indeed Tottenham must be looking at Chelsea with frustration as their great stadium rebuild was canceled,  Planning permission on their new ground ended in March 2020 and no new plans have been put forward.   Hence no stadium costs, hence wild spending on players and then the wild selling.  Koulibaly, Kovacic, Mendy, Havertz and Loftus-Cheek have all gone.

Now this sort of process that Chelsea has indulged in: buying vast numbers of players, seeing who fits and then flogging the rest quickly, is to an extent dependent on Saudi Arabia.  Not that the players are sold to Saudi Arabian make-believe league clubs, but the fact that Saudi Arabia is buying all sorts of players which means lots of clubs have money to spend.

And this gets round FFP.   The wannabe club buys everyone it can find, then the new manager looks at them in training, decides which ones to keep and sells the rest to the new fantasy league.

Behind all this is the simple fact that Chelsea is funded by Clearlake.    PIF, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, has invested with Clearlake.  PIF now also owns the four biggest clubs in the Saudi Pro League.  In short, in a roundabout route Saudi Arabia is funding Chelsea in a way that seems to be getting around the rather flimsy rules.

It would seem that moving on the unwanted players to Saudi Arabia was part of the plan all the time: hence the lack of worry about the bonkers purchase of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and then sending him on gardening leave.

So we find Chelsea now earning more in player sales than virtually anyone else (£1.16b since 2013-14 according to the Athletic) which means no FFP problem although thanks to Saudi Arabia’s league.

Thus the key for all other clubs who don’t have a clear connection with the Saudi league is not one of buying players, but how to take great risks with players with the option to flog them if they don’t work out.

As we know Granit Xhaka has gone, Thomas Partey may have gone by the time you read this and  Kieran Tierney and Folarin Balogun may join the list.

But Arsenal are selling on the back of a successful season, and an incredibly impressive reputation about the way their bring young players through.  The handling of Saliba, the nurturing of Saka, the capture of Martinelli after he had attended multiple training camps at Manchester United, the careful recovery plan on Smith Rowe, the four players scoring in double figures last season… all this points to an alternative to the Chelsea method, and there is every chance that the Arsenal-Brazil link nurtured by Edu will continue to produce brilliant players at knockdown prices.

And selling players does seem to be the big issue.  Chelsea can do it by their links to Saudi Arabia.  Arsenal seem to know when to sell within Europe.   But the other big buyer Manchester United seem to have much greater difficulty in selling, and so remain dependent on the earnings of the club from its worldwide support.  Indeed the Athletic reports states that “financial fair play (FFP) limitations holding them back. The last three years, according to Transfermarkt, have seen a net spend of £472m at Old Trafford…..”  They point out that if one goes back 10 years Machester United were spending £1.06 billion but only generated £132m in sales.

So this seems to be the new approach.  Spend a lot, but either own or have a close relationship with other clubs who will buy your players when they are no longer wanted or set up an overseas production plant (eg in Brazil) which spots the great players and funnels them through to your club (Arsenal).

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3 Replies to “The great Chelsea fire sale and how clubs are now manipulating FFP”

  1. Why would Spurs be “looking at Chelsea with frustration as their great stadium rebuild was canceled” ? The stadium is the thing Levy has done well. Its a cash cow, generating a large amount of extra revenue. Not only that but the loans were locked in on fixed interest when interest rates were at their lowest. Spurs are now in a situation where inflation is their friend, income goes up but loan repayments don’t. When someone looks at the numbers down the road Levy will be regarded as a financial genius, although its really more luck than judgement.

  2. Aren’t Chelsea frustrated because they are going to have to do a rebuild on the same location costing more money than initially projected?

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